Skip to main content

tv   This Is America With Dennis Wholey  WHUT  September 26, 2010 9:00am-9:30am EDT

9:00 am
something different this week. if you are a regular viewer of the program "this is america," you probably notice i often ask a guest what is the most important lesson you learned in your life so far, and how does it help you navigate through life on a daily basis? the answers are varied and very authentic. we have put together many of those answers on this program. how about you? if i ask what's the most important lesson you've learned, what would you say? back on the other side, "this is america". >> "this is america" is brought to you by -- hyundai motor america. the national education association, the nation's largest advocate for children and public education.
9:01 am
the league of arab states, representing 350 million people in 22 member countries. the rotandaro family trust. the ctc foundation. and the american life tv network. >> so, the question on the table is what is most important lesson you have learned in life so far, and how do you use it on a day-to-day basis to navigate through life? some very special people give some very wonderful and heartfelt answers. so, sit back,relax and enjoy it. what do you think is the single greatest lesson you've learned professionally? >> i think persistence in trying to get a story.
9:02 am
>> boy, were you, like getting into university. >> that was true. >> and getting your first job, with all those rejection letters. >> getting into university was hard because i didn't have latin and you had to have latin in england to get in. >> but persistence i can see. >> persistence is the thing. i think i must have been the world's biggest bore, to go on and on, i want to do this and that, please let me in, please let me. i think they said just give him something to get rid of him. >> on a personal level, what is the biggest lesson you learned? on a human level? >> on the real human level, it's the value of other people who may disagree with you -- i've been so lucky in my marriage and in my association with colleagues.
9:03 am
i did not know any of the people, but i tried to find out who they were. the most rewarding thing for me is finding out if the person you are talking to has unsuspected depths or talents. i may have appeared like that, when people interviewed me, but i did not see it that way. i just thought i was a great persistent bore. >> you keep using that word. >> i am a bit relentless. i may suffer from ocd, i want to get this thing done, i want to get it done. it can be a virtue, but it can be a nuisance if you are living with somebody. >> all this experience of 30 or 40 years for you? >> ever since the first interview that you did with me in -- >> whoa! way back when.
9:04 am
what is the single best lesson that you have learned in life that you use every day to carry you through? >> never to be pessimistic, because it has no function. it is a dilitant, an indulgence of a vain mind, because it does not get you anywhere. that gives you resilience and gives you bounce-back from defeat. your last defeat is your best teacher. >> did you learn that from your folks? >> yes, my parents. i put it in a book which i call "17 traditions," how they raised their four children. >> when you put all this together and write this, what are the lessons you are taking, what is the biggest lesson you learned along the way to get to this stage? children are eternal. they don't know ethnic boundaries or religious boundaries. the values of devotion, loyalty, to your family and
9:05 am
community and country, the values of hard work, the values of tenacity, of overcoming obstacles and difficulties, it is in every single language, culture, religion, every single country. the great genius of america is that we attract the most ambitious, the most determined, the most energetic. the dull ones are back in poland, ruwanda, mexico, and burma. we are renewed constantly. the title of this book comes from barack obama's inaugural address where he said, "we as a patchwork nation," was the phrase. that characteristic is a strength and not a weakness. i could not agree with him more. that is what i take away from this. i can listen to a family from sierra leone and hear the voices of my grandparents in
9:06 am
their story. i can hear the lessons i was taught and you were taught and the lessons we try to pass on to the next generation. they know no ethnic or national boundaries. >> you've been fighting the fight a long time and have made a wonderful contribution, and there's more work to be done for sure. what is the most important lesson you've learned personally that allows you to navigate on a day-to-day basis? >> it's my faith. i try to stay anchored in my faith, and in the faith in my elders. i've had extraordinary role models. both my parents. dr. king, dr. benjamin e. mayes, ela baker. i've been blessed with people with great faith and great grit. they never stopped working, they knew you could never give up. you did not always have to win, you just had to get up every
9:07 am
morning and do the best you could. i've seen enough of the fruits of labor. i look at the young people we've celebrated who beat the odds against homelessness and violence and horrible things that should not exist for children. i watch how one caring person can reach out and make a difference and i've watched them become lawyers, doctors, peace core volunteers, and parents. it reminds me that you don't have a right to give up on any child or any human being. second, that you have to keep trying, getting up in the morning. you plant that seed. some of them will grow and some of them will not. you take that first step in faith and leave the rest to god. i've seen extraordinary changes over the last 35 or 40 years. i want to work my way out of business, but not until we leave poverty behind in this country. >> 26 years, you have been all over the world, sat down with
9:08 am
the biggest players. personally, what is the biggest lesson you've learned? >> it's a hard question. the biggest lesson i keep learning -- and i have to keep re-learning this -- is that the way an issue plays out and gets debated in the capital of this nation often is divorced from the way that the issue is seen elsewhere in the world. i never cease to be amazed by how differently the rest of the world looks at the same issues that we look at. sometimes in a bizarre manner and sometimes with conspiracy theories, but one of the biggest mistakes we made after 9/11 was that we did not stop to ask the question, "and then what?" we take an action and then what?
9:09 am
>> what is the single greatest lesson you learned in your life and how do you bring it to the classroom? maybe something you learned growing up or from a mentor or teacher or parent. what's the single biggest lesson you carry with you into the classroom that you use as a teacher and as a person? cindy? >> what i like to tell my students is you can be anything you want to be. that is from mrs. rigby. that is so they will remember. i tell them the story of how i wanted to be a dallas cowboys cheerleader but i did not get to be. i grew up across the street from a housing project. my dad dropped out of school in seventh grade. i may not have had those opportunities, but i had teachers who enabled me to
9:10 am
understand i could be somebody, anything i wanted. that is the lesson i learned and that is what i say to my kids. if my kids all say i want to be in the nba or the nfl and i don't say to them that's a really big dream, you better focus on something else. i say to pick up that basketball and start practicing. if that's what you wanted to, you can do it, but you have to work hard. >> where did you learn that? >> i learned that work ethic from my father and watched him work hard. he was a linesman and he climbed poles every day because he did not have education to sit in an office. i watched him work and give up vacations se we could put the money into the household. i watched my mother work. my teachers told me i could do whatever i wanted. >> what was your biggest lesson you learned? >> i've done a lot of traveling. in a restaurant in cambodia you could eat your food and then
9:11 am
the homeless kids would grab whatever food you left on the table after you walked off. the restaurant staff would shoo them away. i remember seeing their eyes looking from outside. i really thought there was enough and the world for everybody, we just need to get that to them. that's a big part of education. there's enough out there for everybody. we just have to get it to them. >> stephanie? >> my big sister karen told me there are no excuses. you can achieve. she would say, "stephanie, shut up and deal and roll with the punches." no matter where you come from or what you have experienced, it does not matter. you can overcome anything. that is what i take my students every day. no matter what's happening at home or what chaos you live in or what you experienced with
9:12 am
your parents, you can overcome anything and become anything. >> kimberly? >> one thing i learned in life is that we are all born with natural intelligence. something that we are gifted in, we are geniuses in those specific skills. and with that natural intelligence comes a passion. that is what we should do as our career. i ask my students all the time, why are you here? what do you come to school for? they say to get a good job. i say, no, you were born with something. what do you love to do every day without thinking about it, it comes instinctively, you do it so well, no one ever taught you? they say that they draw or write music or poetry. that is your natural gift, that's what you're supposed to do. i'm going to give you some skills to help you expand that
9:13 am
gift. that is what you're supposed to do in life, not get a good job. everyone -- look at the trees -- no one tells them how to grow leaves. they are born with natural intelligence. we all have it. >> in washington people are forever saying "what do you do?" i think the question should be what is your passion? >> that's right. >> i say to kids, what is the most fun you ever had? try to focus on that and everything else follows. >> then the money comes naturally and you don't worry about the money. >> what's your most important lesson? >> kim got me sidetracked. i agree 100%. yes, our educational structure in education is so narrowly focused.
9:14 am
that frustrates me as an educator. i feel like we are tracking our students into one direction and they lose their passion as they get older. at the same time, which brings me to the lesson i've learned, we have to have high expectations because high expectations results in high- performance. that is the lesson i learned early from my parents. my mother and father always expected the most out of us. we knew that second-best or less than your best was not good enough. whether you came home with a "b" and that was your best, then that was justified. if you could have gotten higher, and then that was not justified. i try to have high expectations for all my students. something we have to be careful of as teachers or parents, to expect less, you cannot expect
9:15 am
less just because of circumstances. sometimes we fall into the stereotypes of different maybe racial or gender. we tend to think that he's just a guy, so he's not going to write as well as a girl. so we focus -- we fine tune the females and their handwriting flourishes. they express themselves so well because we say he's a guy. whatever the case may be. high expectations, high performance. >> susan, lessons you learned in life that you carry with you into the classroom that makes a difference? >> for me, i think about my attendance at galaudet u university. i remember the first time having complete access in an environment where i could learn anything anywhere. i could become anything i wanted to. i believe that is possible when you have access to learning.
9:16 am
i was able to develop a strong sense of what my passion was. i wanted to learn as much as i could and continue to grow and develop. i am finding many of my students are part of that achievement gap and they should not be a part of that. because they just don't have access to information. they don't have the communication. they have not had the language acquisition. what i learned at gallaudet was anything is possible if you have complete communication access. >> what single lesson have you learned from all this that kind of helps you navigate on a day- to-day basis? >> starbucks cup 235 has a quote by me that says individuals can be wrong and il- informed, but when the public gets together either the majority as a whole or as a vote, the community always gets it right. >> how does that work in your life?
9:17 am
>> my son told me sometimes i do an analysis that goes a little far. ben told me always trust the numbers. so i have learned to just trust the numbers whether i agree with them or not. >> what is the single greatest lesson you learned? >> probably that if you do the right things the right way and that you can sleep well tonight, things will turn out for the best. >> whether it's writing the book, living a life, being in the media over a long time, what is the single greatest lesson that you have learned in your own lives that you take with you on a day-to-day basis that helps you live your life? >> i think it is really being clear about what i want from my professional life and personal life. not what other people want for me. if i have that clear set of
9:18 am
goals, if i know what my parameters are, whatever i am asked to do or job changes 'm asked to make, i can see if they match my goals. if they don't, i say no. >> there's a variation on that. yes, understanding what i want and also knowing that your bosses or co-workers, they are not spending their day thinking about you. they are not dwelling on whether you have just asked if you have to go to the republican convention. they are not spending too months thinking about that. you are a small part of their lives. you don't need to worry over it. you need to take the emotion out of some of these work negotiations. >> on one saturday my mother took us to shikota, oklahoma, a very small town. she took us there on a saturday.
9:19 am
we had to flag down the train and it slowed down and we jumped on and sat down in the first place we could find. we are comfortable, and here comes the conductor saying we could not sit there. it's for white people. >> how old were you? >> 6. my mother said well the train is moving and i cannot move my children and things because it's dangerous. he said he would stop the train. so he stopped the train. instead of letting us go to the colored coach, he put us off the train -- in the woods. that was my first brush with raw, unmitigated racism.
9:20 am
and i began to cry. i had looked forward to going to the town and i'm here in the woods. now we have to trudge back home. mom said why are you crying? i said the man put us off the train. she said that's because he's trying to enforce a law that separates white people from blacks. she said but let me tell you something, that is not an occasion to cry. you are just as good as anyone on that train. we just did not have the power to make it possible to stay on the train. instead of your crying, i want you to spend your energy proving that you are a good as anyone on that train. with that we went back home and
9:21 am
i wiped my tears away and i decided that was a good way to live. from that day until this day i have undertaken to prove i'm as good as anybody. that has been my motto. it's been the greatest lesson my mother taught me, and she taught me many. terribly important lesson not only for my survival but my making it through the maze of racism that's existed in this country until the present day. >> on a personal level and professional, when you put all this together, what is the biggest lesson you learned? >> everybody wants whatever they want today but they don't want to have to pay for it until tomorrow. we have a societal problem. starting in the late '70's and early '80's, americans became addicted to consumption and
9:22 am
debt. americans now know that "too big to fail' is a false premise. they know if you spend more money than you make and take on too much debt, the bubble can burst. they saw it happen in the private sector. they know it can happen in government. we must not let it happen. our politicians don't want to make tough choices until there's a crisis that gives them a cover. we cannot afford to wait for crisis, because it would be mighty ugly for americans. >> what single lesson have you learned along the way that helps you navigate through life on a day-to-day basis? >> never burn bridges. you never know when you'll meet that person again. second, always know where you're going. when you lose sight of what you're trying to accomplish -- i spend a lot of time with people who want to argue about an activity, a simple thing that they think will change the system. i don't believe that. you have to know where you're going.
9:23 am
for me, in the last 10 years, i think i understand systems better than i ever did before. here's an example. in the public education system, people spend tens of millions of dollars trying to alter the results. the gates foundation spent $50 million trying to alter high schools. it did not change them. i believe it's because a system can only produce what it is designed to produce. if you don't like the results, you have to change the system. in america, the richest and most powerful nation of the world, we have designed a public education system that 20% to 25% of students will not graduate from high school. if you are poor, african- american, hispanic, or live in an urban center, it could be close to 50%. the dropout rate does not fluctuate like the dow jones. it's pretty constant the last 20 years. what drives me is i already know if nothing changes, what
9:24 am
happens to the kids in first grade this year. i cannot tell you what will happen to them tomorrow. first graders this year are in the class of 2020. i can tell you within 2 percentage points right here today what percent of those first graders in 2020 will not graduate from high school, will be incarcerated, will commit teen suicide, and will be single parents. if nothing changes, i can predict that. i want that system changed. i want us to design a system that for every single child in america, every student, whether it's pre-k or an adult trying to find a new education because their job has disappeared, i want a place for them to go where there can live their dreams. for every student. until we transform that system into a different system, one that is designed to ensure that every child, not just my child or grandchild, but every single
9:25 am
student in america has that shot. that is what drives me. >> thanks for watching. see you next time on "this is america." by the way, what is the most important lesson you've learned? huh? for online video of all "this is america" programs, visit our web site, >> "this is america" is brought to you by -- hyundai motor america. the national education association, the nation's largest advocate for children and public education. the league of arab states,
9:26 am
representing 350 million people in 22 member countries. the rotandaro family trust. the ctc foundation. and the american life tv network. captioned by the national captioning institute
9:27 am
9:28 am
9:29 am
>> welcome to "ideas in action," a television series about ideas and their consequences. i'm jim glassman. we're here at the hoover institution on the campus of stanford university to meet